They Call This Football?

soccer shoes

 

I played football, the kind where you actually use your feet. I kept goal at school, and in a league while working for the Sault Star in Northern Ontario bck in the late Fifties.  And when I watch the World Cup, I hardly recognize the game.

For one thing, we wore football boots. Big, clunky things made of rawhide. With cleats. When those forwards stepped on my hand as I dived the ball off their feet (which they did not hesitate to do), I saw stars. What are those things they wear on their feet today as they tiptoe through the tulips? They look like slippers. And the colors! I even saw some US players in pink footwear (photo above).

Are they getting in touch with their feminine side or what?

And those referees! They blow their whistles more often than a Jon Canoo band at Christmas. Of course, they’re not entirely to blame. The players seem more skilled at diving than at kicking. If an opposing player gets within a foot or two, they throw themselves to the ground, weeping and grimacing like an abandoned debutante.

Somebody must have rewritten the rule book while I wasn’t looking.

Aren’t they allowed to bump each other with their shoulders any longer? I don’t see anyone trying to do that. They poke their pretty pink shoes between the opposing player’s legs instead. Isn’t that tripping?

I swear the US women’s team look more like football players than the men. They look sturdier. They run faster and with more purpose. They are unafraid of physical contact.

And the women actually try to get the ball in the opponent’s net. The men seem more interested in making dainty little passes to each other, often heading back toward their own goal instead of trying to advance into their opponent’s end of the field.

Look, I can see that today’s footballers are incredibly skilled. But at what? At trapping and controlling and precision-passing  – yes. But they don’t shoot the ball the way players of my generation did. The pros of my time hung heir heads in shame if they lofted a shot over the goal. They fired bullets. And they pulled the trigger often.

Today, you’re lucky if you see four or five shots total in a game. The scores are one-nil or one-all, or even nil-all. Rarely does a team score more than twice. How dull is that?

So call me a curmudgeon, but football (like everything else, I guess) just ain’t what it used to be.

Anyway, that’s it for me today. I have to go watch the US play Belgium.

 

A Toxic Supreme Court

Image: Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Case Challenging Affordable Care Act

 

The US Supreme Court has once again demonstrated its dangerous political and religious bias. In a majority decision, the court has ruled that a company may deny birth control coverage to employees if the company’s  owners believe birth control is against God’s law. This clearly violates the constitutional separation of Church and State and nudges America closer to becoming a theocracy – like one of those awful Muslim countries where women are obliged to wear veils in public.

Religion used to be a private matter in America. Individuals were free to follow their own beliefs. It was the main reason the Pilgrim Fathers crossed the Atlantic. They wanted to escape the dominance of a state religion.

Now, the country’s highest court has decreed employees must submit to the religious doctrine of their employers. The court ruled today that a corporation named Hobby Lobby is exempt from the Obamacare provision to provide birth control for employees because the company’s owners belong to a religion that bans birth control.

In effect, the company’s employees are being told they must submit to the beliefs of a particular sect, even if they do not share those beliefs.

Justice Samuel Alito belongs to the Roman Catholic church, which certainly shares those beliefs. So does Justice Antonin Scalia. So does Justice Clarence Thomas. And so does Chief Justice John Roberts. Good Catholics all. Right-wingers all.

And the court’s crucial “swing voter,” Justice Anthony Kennedy, also is a Roman Catholic.

(Justice Sonia Sotomayer is also a Roman Catholic but joined the other three liberal justices in voting against the decision.)

With the court stacked in favor of right-wing religious and political policies, the nation’s freedoms are under attack. Women’s rights are being eroded. Civil rights are being overturned. And now religious freedom has been targeted.

The implications are frightening. What now?

Can a company owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to cover blood transfusions? What if the owners belong to a religion that rejects hospital care altogether? Don’t Christian Scientists rely on prayer instead?

These justices are a disgrace. Thankfully they are mortal.  Future administrations will have an opportunity to appoint more suitable members to the court. It will be up to the American electorate to make sure these administrations support the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.

Click for the news story.

 

Give the Kids Asylum!

UN

In the blizzard of words set off by thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the US border from Mexico, the sanest analysis comes from the United Nations.

The kids are refugees, most of them anyway, the UN points out in a new report.

Of course they’re refugees. And of course they should be treated as refugees – not lawbreakers. They deserve asylum, not incarceration and deportation.

Leslie Velez, a lead author of the UN report “Children on the Run,” says the agency has found that pervasive violence and the inability of the state to provide security for its citizens are primary reasons for children fleeing such countries as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Most of these children are fleeing the kind of gang violence that can be as bad as a military conflict.Kids in many drug-infested Latin American countries are subjected to unspeakable abuse. Their lives are at risk.

In contrast to Republicans like John Boehner who want to send troops to beat back  the invading children, President Obama is treating the crisis as a humanitarian challenge. He has directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to do whatever it takes to care for the kids. And Johnson has assigned FEMA chief Craig Fugate to coordinate the rescue.

Johnson told The New York Times that the influx of unaccompanied minors had “zoomed to the top of my agenda” after he encountered small children — including one who was 3 years old — during a recent visit at the McAllen Border Patrol station in Texas.

The President originally asked Congress for $868 million to fund the response to the invasion, but raised the ante to $1.5 billion as the scope of the problem came into focus.

I have yet to learn the details of the Obama Administration’s plan, but now that the UN has provided some clarity, there can be no doubt that the kids must be protected under international law. As the UN report points out:

Because, by definition, the Governments of their home countries no longer protect the basic rights of these individuals, the international community must step in to ensure that those basic rights, as articulated in numerous international and regional instruments, are respected.

I am confident the President, as a law professor and humanitarian, will not ignore the UN findings.

And I am sure he recognizes that the region’s long-term problems need to be addressed to stem the flow of children crossing into the US. As Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’  Committee on Migration, said recently:

These children are extremely vulnerable to human traffickers and unscrupulous smugglers and must be protected. Over the long term, the increasing violence from gangs and organized crime in their home countries must be addressed and controlled so they can be secure in their homes.

There’s even more of a challenge to be faced: comprehensive immigration reform. Without such action, anything the government does will be a temporary fix. And that, as we all know, will not happen as long as the Republicans control the House.

The only solution is Democratic control of Congress. And that is one reason November’s elections are so crucial to America’s – and Latin America’s – future.

Click for more on the UN report.

Click for more on the border crossings.

 

Welcome Back Tiger!

tiger

 

So he shot 74 yesterday, so what? It’s good to have him back. Even a faltering Tiger is better than no Tiger at all. Maybe now the TV audiences will come back. Viewers evaporated during his absence. This year’s US Open. which was won by Martin Kaymer, attracted the sparsest audience in a long, long time. And with one no-name after another taking home the PGA trophies in Tiger’s absence, golf has lost its crowd appeal.

The golf  industry is falling on hard times.

When golf is exciting on TV, the station sells more ads, the PGA makes more money. And more people take up the game, more clubs get sold, more caps and gloves and balls and tees… more clothes even. When golf is dull to watch, the game becomes less popular as a recreational sport, and a lot of people rake in a lot less loot.

I don’t know what Tiger will shoot today. He is playing in the afternoon and I’m writing this in the morning. But I hope he makes the cut. The weekend would be dull without him.

Who ever heard of Greg Chalmers, the first-round leader at Congressional? All I know is that he’s from Australia. No  offense but I would rather watch the World Cup or Wimbledon than watch him shoot another 66. As for Fredrik Jacobson, Ricky Barnes, Bill Hass et al, I’ve seen them play many, many times, and I am not that thrilled at the prospect of watching them again. Yes, I remember Bill’s miraculous recovery shot from the water hazard, the one that won him $10 million and the FedEx cup back in 2011. Yes, I know these guys are good, as those PGA commercials keep reminding us.

But Tiger they are not.

And those prodigies they keep hyping?  Rickie Fowler’s costume party is getting old, and Jordan Spieth, despite his consistent top-ten finishes and tender age isn’t all that spectacular to watch. They come and they go, one after another, Jimmy Walker… Billy Horschel… Patrick Reed… each as forgettable as the other.

They can hit the ball a mile, that’s true. They can hit their irons with pin-point accuracy. They can sink long, winding putts. Not all the time, of course. The golf gods wouldn’t stand for it. They have decreed that golfers – from the greatest to the least among  us – will have good days and bad days, sometimes awful days.

But some golfers are fun to watch. Arnie was fun to watch. Lee was fun to watch. Jack and Gary and Chi Chi … they were all great theater … Phil and Bubba are fun to watch – sometimes.

Tiger is really fun to watch, especially when he gets in the groove.

So welcome back Tiger. But take care. Don’t swing too hard when you hit it in the deep Congressional rough. A lot of people depend on you for their living. They need you to stay healthy.

Save your back for the Open at Royal Liverpool next month, Tiger. You know we’ll be watching.

Click in case you missed yesterday’s first round.

 

John Boehner’s Bluff

Leadership

House Speaker John Boehner says he is going to sue President Obama. For what exactly? For… well, he will figure that out later, but it will have something to do with executive orders and not implementing laws passed by Congress.

Of course it’s a bluff. You know and I know that under the Constitution you must have suffered some kind of harm in order to sue anyone for redress. Boehner has no “standing” in court. Congress has no “standing” in court. They can’t show they’ve been harmed.

You and I would have a better case if we were to sue John Boehner and Congress. We have suffered irreparable harm at their hands. They have let the country drift into an economic and social Sargasso Sea while they attack and obstruct the President - and fight among themselves.

Even Fox News can see that. The cable channel’s Neil Cavuto gave Michele Bachmann a piece of his mind Wednesday when she started jawing about suing the President. He tongue lashed Bachmann and her colleagues in Congress for launching attacks at each other instead of addressing the nation’s pressing problems.

Cavuto dismissed the threat to sue as a waste of time. He asked Bachmann:

Where was your rage when Democrats were going after President Bush on the same use of executive orders, because I think you knew then that that was a waste of time then and I think you know in your heart of hearts this is a waste of time now.

When Bachmann persisted, he told her she was “being silly,” and cut to a commercial

Fox News!

I guess that crazy Michele Bachmann has worn out her welcome on the news channel. And it seems her Tea Party pals are in disarray nationwide. Yes, they defeated Eric Cantor in Virginia but they got their heads handed to them in Mississippi. And South Carolina. And Kentucky.

So why is Boehner kowtowing to them? Why is he talking rubbish and pledging millions of Repubican Party dollars to support their candidates?

I guess he’s that kind of guy. Dumb.

The House speaker should read the writing on the wall. America is getting fed up with the Tea Party’s nonsense. They’ve gone too far.

Even the Republican Party establishment has had enough. And the party establishment can get mean. As in Cavuto’s rant, for example.

Those Tea Party candidates are in for a shock.

Remember I told you so when they get a shellacking in November.

Click for more on the Fox News episode.

Click for Boehner’s announcement.

 

What’s “Food,” Anyway?

insects

 

At boarding school back in Jamaica, we usually had oatmeal porridge at breakfast. Unfortunately, the school was far in the mountains, way beyond the existing power lines at that time, and there was no refrigeration. So, by mid-term, the stored oatmeal would be invaded by weevils.

I can still see those tiny white weevils in my mind’s eye, lying in state on the surface of the porridge. I could eat the oatmeal and weevils, scoop off the weevils and eat the oatmeal – or go without my porridge. I went without when I wasn’t starving but there were times when hunger prevailed. I somehow managed to get past the weevils and force some porridge down my throat.

Silly me! Apparently, those weevils would have been good for me.

I just read an article by Sarah Gray, in Salon.com, suggesting that insects (are weevils insects? I suppose so) are “the next superfood.”

And I suppose I should have seen it coming.

My sister Elizabeth recently toured parts of Asia, and she reports that eating insects is common in countries like Cambodia, where food is hard to come by. Fried tarantula, for example, is a delicacy.

And I read somewhere long ago – probably in one of those Tarzan books – that our ancestors, the Great Apes, dug up fat, juicy grubs and munched on them.

Disgusting? Why?

We eat the flesh of other animals. If you stop to think about it, how disgusting is that? But we humans got used to it over time, and now we (most of us anyway) don’t give it a thought as we cut into a juicy steak or carve that Thanksgiving turkey.

Furthermore, I understand some insects are considered a delicacy even in Western culture. Those well-heeled sophisticates who enjoy snails and frog’s legs also prize chocolate coated ants and crickets, I am told.

Do they know something we commoners don’t?

If the article in Salon.com is to betrusted, it seems they do. The article states .

 Both the video (produced by AsapSCIENCE) and University of California, Riverside (UCR) report that insects are a good source of proteins,essential minerals, vitamins and fat. There is also an argument to be made about their sustainable farming. “There is a strong case in favor of mass rearing insects for food as this practice is probably less environmentally damaging than other forms of protein production,” University of Riverside, California has written.

As the world’s population soars and its resources dwindle, humans will inevitably be forced to broaden their definition of  “food.” You can probably expect to see canned crickets in your grocery store in the not-too-distant future.

What? You would never eat insects?

Dream on. You alreadydo.

Here’s an excerpt from the Salon.com article that should give you pause:

It has been estimated that the average American eats about two pounds of dead insects and insect parts a year. These bugs are in vegetables, rice, beer, pasta, spinach and broccoli. The US Food and Drug Administration has allowable insect parts per certain food types. For example, beer which is made from hops, can contain up to 2,500 aphids per 10 grams of hops!!!

And you thought the weevils in my porridge were disgusting.

Click for the Salon.com article.

Click for more on eating insects.

 

She Did it Her Way

michelle

 

Tell the truth, you wrote off Michelle Wie, didn’t you? You gave up on the kid, dismissed her as just another flash in the pan, another prodigy that fizzled. And you probably shook your head when she decided to finish school before joining the LPGA tour full time. Was she nuts, taking a pass on an opportunity to mint millions just so she could get a Stanford degree in communications?

And I bet you rolled your eyes when she adopted that “table top” putting style (above). What on earth was she thinking, bending over like that, her long, long legs making her look like an exotic bird?

What do you have to say now? Now that she has won her major, not just any major but the Big One, the US Women’s Open, now that she has pocketed $1.6 million and looks to make millions more by year end?

What can you say? What can anyone say?

Michelle Wie was right all along. She stuck to her guns while the critics howled – even overriding her coaches and parents as she matured.

And she did it with a smile. She never abandoned her girlish sense of fun, the whimsical joie de vivre that put streaks in her hair as a 14-year-old playing with the pros and designer bandages on her leg as a 24-year-old winning her first major.

From all accounts, Michelle Wie is popular among LPGA competitors, despite her prodigious talent, which could be expected to incite envy among her rivals. She insists on having fun in good times and bad. And the other pros – most of them anyway – enjoy her upbeat company.

The fans love her too. Old Pinehurst No. 2 shook as the sound waves reverberated across those diabolical greens and winding fairways. Michelle had won – in America!  She had already won LPGA trophies in Mexico and Canada, but not in America, not until now.

She took the harder way, the way less traveled, and it has led to her first major win – the first of many, you can go to the bank on that.

How sweet it is! She insisted on doing it her way, the bumpy way, and that has made all the difference. Here’s how she put it after her victory on Sunday:

 Without your downs, without the hardships, I don’t think you appreciate the ups as much as you do. I think the fact that I struggled so much, the fact that I kind of went through a hard period of my life, the fact that this trophy is right next to me, it means so much more to me than it ever would have when I was 15.

Click for an account of her victory.

Click for more on the Michele Wie story.

 

Don’t Blame Walmart

I don’t often shop at Walmart. It’s laid out in the most haphazard fashion and its products are not always reliable. Sometimes they work out OK; sometimes  not so much. (And Sandra won’t eat their groceries.)

But I think the current crusade against the retail giant is unfair.

Sure, Walmart employees are paid little and nothing. Sure, they’re often treated like indentured servants. And, yes,  Walmart workers definitely need a union.

But it’s not necessarily up to Walmart to mend its ways. As long as the company’s economic model works, and as long as they’re not using physical force, or other illegal means, to intimidate their workers, I think it’s unreasonable to demand that Walmart become like Starbucks (as Timothy Egan seems to suggest in the New York Times). Or like Costco (as some other Walmart critics advocate).

Starbucks and Costco’s benevolent models work for them; Walmart’s mean-spirited model works for Walmart.

And if Walmart workers must rely on food stamps and other kinds of welfare to survive, that’s a shame. But I don’t blame Walmart. I blame the federal government.

If the government created an economy in which low-skilled workers could find other jobs, better paying jobs, they wouldn’t flock to Walmart.

I see the primary role of government not as some kind of police agency, telling private companies what they can and cannot do. For one thing, private companies find ways to get around federal regulations. For another, too much government regulation breeds the kind of rebellion you are seeing in the Tea Party and other hostile groups.

I would prefer the government to be an enabler, providing incentives to private companies to do the right thing, and competition to private companies if they don’t.

Instead of regulating the vast health care industry, for example, it would have been more effective to expand Medicare and provide an alternative insurance source to compete against the private insurers. But a single-payer health insurance system was out of the question politically. Too many Democrats sided with Republicans against it.

And, while I can see the merits of a minimum wage hike, the government might get even better results by providing alternative sources of employment to compete against employers like Walmart.

Why can’t Walmart workers find better jobs?

The fault is yours and mine. We let skinflints get control of Congress, and they refuse to pass a jobs bill. They are letting the nation’s infrastructure rot, while millions are jobless.

You voted Democrat? That’s not enough. We should have done more. We didn’t get enough of our friends to vote with us. We didn’t persuade those “conservative” acquaintances to change their tune. We didn’t give President Obama a Congress he could work with.

In a democracy like ours, individuals – you and me – have to work harder to ensure we get the government we want. If we don’t, we get the government we deserve.

Click for Timothy Egan’s column.

Click for Walmart’s response.

Click for Walmart’s policies vs. Costco’s.

 

When Children Invade

kids

 

Unaccompanied children are swarming into America across the Mexican border. They come from such impoverished  Latin America countries as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

U.S. authorities estimate the number of those children will total between 60,000 and 80,000 this year, and the surge has prompted federal authorities to turn three military bases into shelters.

The conditions under which these children – some as young as 5 – are being housed are shocking and shameful (see photo).

And many of the migrating children are reportedly subjected to nightmarish sexual and physical abuse at the hands of the smugglers who help them cross the border.

So what does House Speaker John Boehner think President Obama should do? Send in the troops, that’s what!

Boehner sent a letter to the President on Friday calling for National Guard troops to go to the border and – and what? Gun down the kids?

Children have been crossing the Mexican border without their parents for years – for decades even. But not in today’s numbers. The surge has snowballed. I understand it’s being precipitated by criminals who promise the parents the kids will be allowed to stay once they get across the border. These criminals take money from the pitifully poor parents to transport the kids.

Once they cross the border, the children are on their own.

Only someone as callous as John Boehner would imagine that there’s a military solution to this problem.

To the rest of us, it’s a humanitarian challenge.

Any American with a conscience must feel a twinge of responsibility for the poverty that drives Latin American parents to give up their precious children in hopes of a better future for them – a future in the Land of Opportunity.

For such children have no opportunity in Guatemala or Honduras or El Salvador. They belong to a permanent underclass firmly kept in place by a militarized elite. And throughout history, American governments have fostered this system, relying on it to provide a stable environment in which American corporations can make huge profits.

The atrocities committed to further such policies are legendary – and legion. And many were committed with American complicity, even in some cases, with American involvement.

When the children of the poor and oppressed come swarming into America, it’s these perverted policies coming home to roost.

I am sure President Obama will pay no attention to Boehner’s horrible proposal. Indeed, I understand from Bloomberg Business News that:

The U.S. plans to spend $9.6 million to help Central American governments repatriate citizens who’ve crossed into the U.S. illegally. The money is intended to enable El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to expand existing repatriation centers and services, according to a White House statement. 

And I suppose that’s a laudable beginning. But there’s much more to be done.

America owes a huge debt to countries in this hemisphere, which US corporations have plundered freely for generations. And the President can make a payment on that debt by caring for their throw-away children.

The administration has asked Congress for $1.6 billion to help the Unaccompanied Alien Children program handle the surge. Perhaps that money could be used to provide humane conditions for the vulnerable youngsters.And perhaps a program could be devised to give the kids an opportunity to be adopted by American families.

Of course, there are Americans who would be outraged by such proposals. And these inhumane people seem to have a lot of political clout these days.

In the current political climate, it is probably impossible to accept the children in America and care for them. But at least America can make sure they are returned to their countries in a humane manner. And in the long term, policies should be introduced to help make their home countries lands of opportunity for all, as these little ones envisage America to be.

Photo above shows detained children sleeping in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Brownsville,Texas.  (AP Photo/Eric Gay, Pool)

See one facility housing 500 children.

Click for an example of US policy in Latin America.

 

A Sense of Entitlement

Saba-Ahmed

 

Once again, a Republican politician is being accused of misconduct. This time, it’s Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who’s in trouble. He is accused of “criminal” behavior in his 2011 and 2012 campaigns. Why do Republicans seem so prone to this kind of scandal?

I think the reason is a sense of entitlement.

I am convinced that Republicans, especially male Republicans, feel they’re somehow privileged, that the rules applying to common folk couldn’t possibly apply to them. After all, they’re a cut above, as all the world knows – or should know.

Read George Will’s columns if you don’t believe me. And look up comments that Republican candidates make on rape, birth control, voting rights and other social issues. They seem to think white males are entitled to rule the roost, to take what they want and decide who gets the rest.

Or listen to the neocons talk about blowing up children in Iraq and other faraway places. Obviously, in their eyes, non-white children aren’t the same as white children. Non-white children are expendable – collateral damage, casualties of history…

I bet they wouldn’t be so eager to bomb families in Denmark or Sweden – or even Russia, which they hate so much.

I grew up in Jamaica, when a small colonial class ruled the island. These privileged representatives of the British were nearly all white – or “Jamaica white” – and they enjoyed special privileges. I won’t list the many ways in which this special position was abused. If you’re from Jamaica, you know. If you’re not, you probably don’t care.

The point is that I see the same kind of thing here in America.

It’s as if America were a colony of some kind with a ruling class identified primarily by skin color. You might think I’m crazy, but where are the black billionaires? And how many Hispanic billionaires can you name?

Obviously, I’m oversimplifying. In a country of more than 300 million people, a country that is changing as I write this blog, the situation is far more complex.

But what I’m getting at is the sense of being special that Republicans seem to have.

Their disregard for “the other” was on display recently at the Heritage Foundation conference on Benghazi. When  Saba Ahmed, a Pakistani Muslim (above), suggested that some at the conference seemed to stereotype all Muslims as violent and anti-American, she was ridiculed and scolded. (Click on the link to the video at the end of this blog.)

And Republicans in Congress don’t seem distressed by the suffering they cause when they slash funding for social programs – the school lunch program, for instance. It’s as if they believe poor people’s children should go hungry.

So why do so many poor people vote Republican? Statistics show these voters are mostly white males, and I can only assume they are basking in the reflected glory of their more privileged brothers. They might be poor but at least their skin is the same color as David Koch’s – and that makes them “better.”

Yes, I know I’m oversimplifying. But can you tell me why I’m wrong?

Click for the Heritage Foundation video.

Click for the Walker story

Click for Will’s views on rape.